|Limp Vellum Binding, via www.limpvellum.com|
Vellum: the traditional bookbinding material, is derived from from the Latin word 'vitulinum' meaning "made from calf". Skins of calf, goat, and sheep can be prepared as parchment and used for writing, printing and binding single sheets, manuscripts, scrolls and codices; the finest parchment was traditionally made of calf, and called vellum. Many medieval illuminated manuscripts were written on vellum as well as some Buddhist texts, and all Sifrei Torah are written on kosher klaf or vellum. Limp vellum bindings were used frequently in the 16th century- there's an entire site devoted to the structure here, where you can see lovely images from the 13th through the 21st century of limp vellum in action. Animal vellum can be far more durable than paper, and more durable than many leather bindings.
|Dutch Pierced Vellum Binding, via www.limpvellum.com|
The process of making vellum is somewhat gruesome and laborious. The skin of a young animal is washed, then soaked in lime to soften the hair so it can be removed. The remaining hair is removed ('scudding') and the skin is dried by attaching it to a frame (a 'herse'). The skin is attached to the frame at points around the edge of the stretched skin with cords, and then the vellum maker uses a crescent shaped knife to clean off any remaining hairs.Once clean, the two sides of the skin are distinct: the side facing inside the animal and the hair side. The skin is then thinned down from the flesh side. Once the skin is completely dry, it is thoroughly cleaned and processed into sheets.
If you're interested in learning how to make vellum yourself, I highly recommend taking a look at Pergamena's website; they are a family-owned business in upstate NY that specializes in parchment and leathers. In the spring they often offer workshops in parchment making with Jesse Meyer, the family's parchment specialist. You can find an article from a participant in one of these classes here. Jesse Meyer was featured on the Discovery Channel's, “Dirty Jobs”, which the internet happily will show you here. Enjoy!
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